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In which the author takes a break from the rigors of her own ethnographic research in France’s Dordogne region to visit with eminent Penn archaeologist Harold Dibble as he plumbs the mysteries of early human and Neandertal behavior—and plots his next gourmet meal.


Out of the corner of my eye I spied the robust figure of Harold Dibble as he zipped across the Place de la Liberté. It was early May at the Wednesday market in Sarlat-la-Canéda in southwestern France. A man walked briskly with him, moving his arms in animated conversation. The two whisked past garden stands, olive sellers, foie gras tables, jarred black truffles, and walnut liquors.

Dibble—Penn professor of anthropology, curator-in-charge of the European archaeology section and deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Penn Museum, and one of the world’s leading experts on the Paleolithic period—had a grin on his face, which I knew either meant that the other man had made a really brilliant point about something archaeological or had just cracked a really bad (as in really good) pun. Before I could hail them, they disappeared into the narrow labyrinth of the medieval town.

I’d gotten to know Dibble in 1987, when I was a first-year doctoral student in the human evolution course he co-taught with then professor of anthropology Alan Mann. In honor of the inveterate punster, who sprinkled his lectures with Paleolithic wordplay, using knap, stone, flint, and chip in every imaginable double entendre, my classmates and I dubbed the teaching team The Mandibles.

I hadn’t seen Dibble in years.

The Roc de Marsal, a cave where Neandertals lived 80,000-40,000 years ago, along with one of the stone houses more recent inhabitants began building against the area’s cliff walls in the 17th century. It’s believed that hominids have been living in this region continuously for 400,000 years.

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FEATURE: On Hearths, Ancient and Modern by Beebe Bahrami
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